One thing is certain. Most people do not get enough exercise in their ordinary routines. All of the advances of modern technology—from electric can openers to power steering—have made life easier, more comfortable, and much less physically demanding. Yet our bodies need activity, especially if they are carrying around too much fat.
Satisfying this need requires a definite plan and a commitment. There are two main ways to increase the number of calories you expend:
• Start a regular exercise program if you do not have one already.
• Increase the amount of physical activity in your daily routine.
The best way to control your weight is a combination of the above. The sum total of calories used over time will help regulate your weight as well as keep you physically fit.
Use Your Body
Before looking at what kind of regular exercise program is best, let’s look at how you can increase the amount of physical activity in your daily routine to supplement your exercise program.
• Recreational pursuits such as gardening on weekends, bowling in the office league, family outings, an evening of social dancing, and many other activities provide added exercise. They are fun and can be considered an extra bonus in your weight control campaign.
• Add more “action” to your day. Walk to the neighborhood grocery store instead of using the car. Park several blocks from the office and walk the rest of the way. Walk up the stairs instead of using the elevator; start with one flight of steps and gradually increase.
• Change your attitude toward movement. Instead of considering an extra little walk or trip to the files an annoyance, look upon it as an added fitness boost. Look for opportunities to use your body. Bend, stretch, reach, move, lift, and carry. Time-saving devices and gadgets eliminate drudgery and are a bonus to mankind, but when they substitute too often for physical activity they can demand a high cost in health, vigor, and fitness.
These little bits of action are cumulative in their effects. Alone, each does not burn a huge amount of calories. But when added together they can result in a sizable amount of energy used over the course of the day. And they will help improve your muscle tone and flexibility at the same time.
Add Aerobic Exercise
Although any kind of physical movement requires energy (calories), the type of exercise that uses the most energy is aerobic exercise. The term “aerobic” is derived from the Greek word meaning “with oxygen.” Jogging, brisk walking, swimming, biking, cross-country skiing, and aerobic dancing are some popular forms of aerobic exercise.
Aerobic exercises use the body’s large muscle groups in continuous, rhythmic, sustained movement and require oxygen for the production of energy. When oxygen is combined with food (which can come from stored fat), energy is produced to power the body’s musculature.
The longer you move aerobically, the more energy needed and the more calories used. Regular aerobic exercise will improve your cardio-respiratory endurance, the ability of your heart, lungs, blood vessels, and associated tissues to use oxygen to produce energy needed for activity. You’ll build a healthier body while getting rid of excess body fat.
In addition to the aerobic exercise, supplement your program with muscle strengthening and stretching exercises. The stronger your muscles, the longer you will be able to keep going during aerobic activity and the less chance of injury.
The benefits of exercise are many: from producing physically fit bodies to providing an outlet for fun and socialization. When added to a weight control program, these benefits take on increased significance.
We have already noted that proper exercise can help control weight by burning excess body fat. It also has two other body-trimming advantages 1) exercise builds muscle tissue and muscle uses calories up at a faster rate than body fat; and 2) exercise helps reduce inches, and a firm, lean body looks slimmer even if your weight remains the same.
Remember, fat does not “turn into” muscle, as is often believed. Fat and muscle are two entirely different substances and one cannot become the other. However, muscle does use calories at a faster rate than fat, which directly affects your body’s metabolic rate or energy requirement. Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of energy required to sustain the body’s functions at rest, and it depends on your age, sex, body size, genes, and body composition. People with high levels of muscle tend to have higher BMRs and use more calories in the resting stage.
Some studies have even shown that your metabolic rate stays elevated for some time after vigorous exercise, causing you to use even more calories throughout your day.
Additional benefits may be seen in how exercise affects appetite. A lean person in good shape may eat more following increased activity, but the regular exercise will burn up the extra calories consumed. On the other hand, vigorous exercise has been reported to suppress appetite. And, physical activity can be used as a positive substitute for between-meal snacking.
Better Mental Health
The psychological benefits of exercise are equally important to the weight conscious person. Exercise decreases stress and relieves tensions that might otherwise lead to overeating. Exercise builds physical fitness, which in turn builds self-confidence, enhanced self-image, and a positive outlook. When you start to feel good about yourself, you are more likely to want to make other positive changes in your lifestyle that will help keep your weight under control.
In addition, exercise can be fun, provide recreation, and offer opportunities for companionship. The exhilaration and emotional release of participating in sports or other activities are a boost to mental and physical health. Pent-up anxieties and frustrations seem to disappear when you’re concentrating on returning a serve, sinking a putt, or going that extra mile.
Editor’s Note: As always, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.